GUTHRIE — Charles Spence quit Guthrie football after his freshman year.
Now, the 27-year-old can't get enough.
At Friday's Class 5A quarterfinal against Tulsa East Central inside Jelsma Stadium, he'll be where he always is during Guthrie games — on the sideline, following the action in his wheelchair.
He wheels up and down the field to stay with the ball, regardless of conditions.
“I've seen him down there when he needed four-wheel drive on that wheelchair because it's so muddy,” Guthrie coach Rafe Watkins said.
Quitting the football team was the first of two devastating mistakes that forever changed Spence's life and perspective.
In March 2004, after a night of partying, Spence got in the car with a drunken driver behind the wheel. The injuries he sustained that night allow Spence to serve as a living, breathing example of what not to do for Guthrie football players.
“You can talk to a kid until you're blue in the face and they won't understand it,” Spence said, “but they can understand it when they look at you and see the aftermath.”
HOW HE STOPPED WONDERING ‘WHY ME?'
Spence had been an athlete his whole life, and he loved playing football.
But after his freshman season, he decided to quit playing.
“It was my biggest mistake,” he said.
A mistake magnified by what Spence's class would accomplish. He would have been a senior on Guthrie's 2002 state championship team.
After Spence quit, he started partying and eventually dropped out of high school.
He returned to school but, during spring break 2004, he made the fateful decision that cost him his ability to walk.
Spence and the group he was with were heading to a spot outside of Guthrie on dirt roads. They saw a motorcycle, and the driver swerved.
The car flipped “six or seven times,” Spence said.
The back of Spence's scalp was torn off.
It took about 200 staples and 500 stitches to reattach it.
Broken glass stuck in the right side of Spence's neck, where he still has a huge scar.
But the most devastating injury is why he needs his wheelchair.
Spence broke his neck at cervical spinal nerves 3, 4 and 5, severing his spinal cord.
Doctors gave him a 30 percent chance to live.
But throughout the slow, painful recovery, his chances improved drastically.
His attitude also improved, with some help.
Shortly after the accident, his friend Kale Powell was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Powell was 16.